HUNTINGTON BEACH — He is a rarity. An odd sight in the ballroom of the Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas, where the world's strongest strongmen have gathered in competition.
Mingling with the World Powerlifting champions is a great-grandfather who calls Bingo and takes daily blood-pressure pills, helping those in need of a leg-wrap or other assistance.
"You're looking good today," he offers with a smile, "What numbers are you going to put up? You ready to break a record?"
What's rare is that this man — Roy Taylor, a few months shy of 70 — is about to attempt a world record, himself.
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"Go, Grandpa," someone yells as his turn approaches.
Taylor discovered powerlifting at age 64. Dived in. And fell in love with the sport.
But there's a reason why his weight plummeted since then. Why his rooting section is so large this day. Why another world-record powerlifter is videotaping this moment.
The projection screen says Taylor will attempt to dead lift 451.94 pounds.
But what he's doing … is much more than that.
Hooked by accident
That's how Taylor became a powerlifter.
He used to pitch softball. Back in the 1970s, he had five pitches — his best topping 70 mph.
"I had a record of 11-1 and threw two no-hitters in the championships," he says.
He's always kept in shape. He was a dockworker. Then a truck-loader who tossed 100-pound boxes around with guys half his age.
In 2003, his brother-in-law John Krystyan asked a favor.
Should anything ever happen to him, would Roy keep an eye on his son? Sure, said Roy, a family man who's attended the birth of all 10 grandchildren. Be happy to …
Krystyan died later that year, so when his son invited Uncle Roy to attend one of his powerlifting meets, Taylor was there. And impressed.
Taylor said, "I asked the guy in charge: 'Do they have this for old guys?' "
"Yes," said the man running the meet. "I'm one of the old guys that does it."
Three months later, in September 2004, Taylor entered his first competition. He took third place in his age and weight division.
"I was hooked," he says.
In 2005, he got more hooked, winning three of his six meets. In 2006, he broke his first U.S. record.
But then he started missing meets. Losing weight. And telling doctors that, no matter what, he wouldn't accept a feeding tube.
The comeback kid
"What's this?" his doctor asked in March 2007.
Back in 1999, Taylor had skin cancer. In 2003, he had tonsil cancer. Now it had returned. Worse. In lymph nodes in his neck.
Chemotherapy produced a rash from the bottom of his feet to the roof of his mouth. So 33 times, over the next few months, they strapped him to a table, with a mask and mouthpiece, and beamed radiation at his throat. He lost his saliva gland. His appetite. And pretty much his ability to swallow. Drinking water hurt.
Daughter Jeannine Bagley, of Moreno Valley, recalls: "It killed me. I just hugged my dad, and said, 'I'm sorry it hurts.' "
His weight dropped from 195 pounds to 161 pounds. Doctors wanted to insert a feeding tube.
"You're not going to put that in me," he vowed. "I won't take it."
Before his hair had even grown back, Taylor resumed workouts so strenuous that he had to sleep the rest of the day.
"He's my hero," says Greg Baxter, 55, of Lomita, a world-record powerlifter who trains with Taylor. "He looked muscle-wasted. But he wouldn't let it stop him."
By March 2008, Taylor was back. He broke his second U.S. record and was gunning for a world title. Then, in good health, he quit.
More than a record
This time was different.
"I realized powerlifting wasn't as important as other things," says Taylor, who quit to care for Kathy, his wife of 50 years, diagnosed with cancer.
Look at the photographs in their home: Roy and Kathy. Kathy and Roy. Roy and Kathy.
"They're always, 100 percent of the time, together," says daughter Bagley, who recounts the time her father (who can't sing) dressed as Elvis and sang to Kathy one birthday. Or the time he nearly burned down the house, filling it with candles for Valentine's Day. Or the time he booked the Disneyland Hotel to celebrate their anniversary.
Kathy had always been his biggest cheerleader.
It was Kathy who bought Taylor his first set of weights and convinced him to eat right; who became famous for yelling, before his every lift: "Taylor, get it up!" Now she needed him. So he quit. And nursed her back to health.
It took more than a year for them to reclaim their lives.
Finally, in November 2009, they found themselves at the World Powerlifting Championships in the Riviera Hotel.
Family and friends huddled around Taylor, some cheering, some crying, as he sought to dead lift more than any man his age and weight had ever lifted.
"His peers are in rocking chairs, watching Oprah," says Baxter, who was videotaping. "To lift that kind of weight, at his age, it's almost unheard of."
Three deep breaths and one dead lift later, Taylor held the world title. The projection screen read 451.94 pounds. But what he did was much more than that.
"It doesn't make any difference if he's a champion or not," says Kathy. "He's my man."